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How to Keep Your IT Career from Stagnating

April 15, 2016 No Comments

 Featured article by Rachel Reese, Independent Technology Author

As fast-paced and ever-changing as IT can be, it is still possible to get comfortable, even complacent, when you have a great job. While many see their IT career as an ongoing journey — the final destination being the executive suite — many others don’t really have a defined career goal beyond doing work that they enjoy and that pays well. This approach works well for some, but for others, it can lead to stagnation, boredom, and failure to reach their potential.

Getting too comfortable in your current role can have devastating consequences as well, if you aren’t prepared to move on. Every year, more IT jobs are outsourced to workers overseas, while others are “restructured,” allowing companies to pay less experienced workers lower salaries for doing the same or similar work. There are literally thousands of stories of IT workers who suddenly found themselves out of work due to changes in how their companies operate, many of whom struggled to find new jobs due to a lack of needed experience, knowledge, and skills.

Given, then, that the average IT worker changes jobs every three to four years, it’s important to stay current with your skills and always be prepared for the next step. To keep from becoming complacent — or burning out from boredom — make these activities a part of your career plan.

1. Train for New Opportunities

As with any career field, staying current in IT requires constantly being open to new opportunities and building upon and improving your skills. This could mean returning to school for an advanced degree, or taking a more self-directed route with online IT training. Many employers are looking for individuals with specific, verifiable experience and skills, and earning certifications prove that you have what it takes to take on new challenges.

Since most employers require applicants to hold at least foundational certifications, earning advanced credentials can put you in an entirely different category when it comes to finding a new job. Mastering a specific niche can put you at the top of the list for companies looking to fulfill a specific purpose. It could have companies competing for you, rather than you competing against other IT workers for positions.

2. Set Goals

One of the fastest ways to stagnate in any career is to never set any goals. Without a defined vision of where you would like to be in a year, five years, or even 10 years or longer, it’s very easy to fall into the patterns of just doing the same thing every day and sticking with the familiar.

By setting goals, you can determine what you want from your career and go after it with purpose, rather than floundering around trying to figure out what to do next, or worse, doing nothing at all. When setting your goals, remember the SMART acronym: They must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling into the trap of “someday, I want to . . .” and never actually doing it.

As you make progress toward your goals, don’t forget to stop and take stock every now and then to evaluate your progress and adjust goals as necessary. The world of IT moves so quickly that the plan you made even just a few years ago could be obsolete now, so staying one step ahead is vitally important.

3. Look Beyond Your Daily Work for Opportunities

Whenever you start a new job, your daily responsibilities are bound to be interesting for at least a short time. However, if you only focus on your daily tasks and assigned responsibilities, inevitably work is going to become dull and you’ll start to feel like a hamster on a wheel.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to contribute outside of your job description that show your employers that you are committed to your job and a valuable asset to the company. Develop plans to help solve ongoing problems, volunteer for special projects, and take on responsibilities that demonstrate both your knowledge and your readiness for high level work. When you do, you’ll stay more engaged with your work and move forward more quickly.

4. Build Your Network

Like many fields, in IT, who you know is often just as important as what you know. While in many ways technical work can be a solitary pursuit, that makes networking even more important. Get to know other people in your field, seek out a mentor, and make yourself known. With more companies beginning to build talent pools to draw from for important projects, a good relationship with the right people can help push your career forward.

Feeling bored in your work sometimes is inevitable. Staying in the same place and being blindsided by changes doesn’t have to be. Take steps to avoid stagnation, and you’ll remain engaged and enthusiastic with your work.

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